Microbial Mayhem in America

Lukas Chang, News Editor

It is often quoted that the number of microbes within your body actually outnumber the cells in your body. Consuming probiotic foods and supplements has been a rising trend in the modern world of health and diet. Harvard medicine cites numerous studies that prove that friendly probiotics can break down food so your body can unlock more nutrition, keep your heart and brain healthier, and improve immune function. Some studies even indicate that the bacteria can affect specific health problems like obesity. Hundreds, sometimes even thousands of these bacteria make up your microbiota, the figurative garden of bacteria that thrive inside of your gut. They wane, wax, and even transform with the types and amount of food you consume.
Microbiota and probiotics can be taken in many ways. Common in America are Yoghurt and Yakult, probiotic foods that have strains of helpful bacteria bred or added into milk. However, many have found that the greatest source of these bacteria is in foods popular in the East, including kim chi, sauerkraut, miso, and kombucha, all of which you can find in a health-oriented grocery store. However, a typical American diet consists of foods more rich in proteins and fats.
A diverse and healthy pool of gut bacteria is important to many aspects of our health. It is proven that people who struggle with obesity generally do not have very diverse microbiota. In a study led by Washington University at St. Louis, researchers found that bacteria taken from the gut of obese patients and transplanted into mice resulted in the mice gaining weight. Even tough the test mice ate the same food as the control mice, the mice with transplanted bacteria still became heavier. Additionally, a paper in the journal Cell, which tracked Southeast Asians immigrating to the United States, showed that after they moved, they lost diversity in their microbiota.
Probiotics also are known to prevent gut problems like bloating, gas, and diarrhea. When a patient takes large doses of antibiotics, the effects create a bacterial imbalance by killing friendly bacteria as well as target bacteria. Often, these lead to indigestion and bowel problems. However, probiotic supplements containing certain strains of helpful digestive bacteria can help tackle these problems. Bacterial strains such as Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and some yeast strains are known to help diarrhea, and are sometimes even used in medication.
You can find probiotic foods in any grocery store, but generally, the American diet neglects these helpful bacteria. Foreign foods that contain probiotics remind us that our ancestors recognized the importance of probiotics in their diets. As more data is accumulated, we have to keep bacteria and probiotics in mind when deciding what to eat.

Yakult is one of the more popular sources of probiotics. Courtesy of rottenkitten.